Aliens (1986)

The near-universal praise over Aliens, and most things James Cameron, perplexes me. Here is a sequel to Alien, nominated for seven Oscars and receiving unanimous praise on Rotten Tomatoes. One guy even calls it the “greatest movie ever made.” For my money, Aliens is a staggeringly awkward picture filled with a mesh of loose conveniences, logical leaps, endless clichés, and lots of burly gunfire.

Cameron shifted things from the horror/science fiction blend of Alien to an action-oriented love letter to all the power and might of the military. Some have picked up themes of motherhood, but this is delivered mainly through the use of a substitute to the cat from the first movie and layered with a hilariously expedient backstory that explains why the protagonist has such undeniable mothering instincts.

Sigourney Weaver is back as Ellen Ripley, the only survivor from the Nostromo. After spending 57 years in statis, she is rescued and brought before her employers at the Weyland-Yutani Corporation. She loses her license as a result of the events 57 years prior and discovers that the planet where her crew first found alien eggs is being colonized by a group of families.

Unfortunately, contact with the colony has been lost and the company enlists Ripley to help them figure out what’s going on. This requires a trip down there with a group of full-blooded military movie stereotypes. It also requires Ripley to get over her trauma from the events of Alien so that she can help when the going gets tougher and the aliens start attacking. Things get interesting when a little girl named Newt (Carrie Henn) is discovered.

As with the first picture, there are some rules set up so that we understand how the alien threat works. They have highly acidic blood, for one thing, and it can eat through more than one floor of some pretty hefty structures. This rule isn’t always followed, especially when a crew of Marines heads into a firefight with the aliens and blood sprays virtually everywhere. The acid blood often has no effect on the tunnels or the walls and only appears to have an impact where necessary to the plot at hand.

There are a number of logical issues and problems with Aliens that some have been able to overlook, but things just pile up too much. This is an action movie, after all, and there are rules to play by. From Ripley’s super-strength that enables her to avoid getting sucked out into space (while climbing up a ladder, no less) to the bizarre deviousness of Burke (Paul Reiser) to impregnate Ripley and Newt with aliens for the purposes of smuggling, Aliens is pretty weak. It runs too long, feels bloated, contains a closing sequence that is almost identical to its predecessor, features an ever-changing accent from a six-year-old girl, and doesn’t make anywhere near as much out of the alien queen as it deserves.

Yes, the film looks the part. Cameron is a decent director when it comes to shooting action sequences and getting all the cool bits to come out right, but he’s never proven himself to be the most logical director out there nor the most humane. Despite insistences that Aliens is some sort of feminist masterwork, there’s nothing ground-breaking about Ripley’s courage. Indeed, the presence of the “manly” female Marine (Jenette Goldstein) seems to undo some of the progression.

Overall, Aliens is an overrated disappointment – much like many of Cameron’s flicks. From its wobbling pace to its overlong and inane conclusion, this is no science fiction classic. It dumps all of the mood, build and emotion of Alien into a hole and emerges covered in tacky clichés and ungainly sequences. This is Cameron’s “genius” at work again. Yawn.


4 thoughts on “Aliens (1986)

  1. I totally agree with this review, and I’m glad someone finally mentioned everything I dislike about the movie. I’ve always loved Ridley Scott’s Alien, and I thought Aliens was an inferior sequel in so many ways.

  2. I disagree with the rating but I like how you clearly mentioned the things you didn’t like about it. I wasn’t born/been watching movies in ’86, but maybe the action cliches they had here weren’t cliches back then? I do concur, however, that “Alien” is a stronger picture mainly because I prefer experiencing an orchestration of foreboding moods over in-your-face action.

    1. Nah, they were cliches then. The whole team of Marines and their cardboard characterizations, for one thing, comes out of classic action and military cinema.

      I may have been a little harsh with the rating, but I really did not enjoy my most recent viewing of this film. In light of everything that Alien accomplished and in light of the massive outpouring of platitudes over All Things Cameron, I found Aliens to be, quite honestly, an overrated, bloated, predictable, often silly picture. I do recall kind of liking it when I first saw it on VHS sometime in the 90s, but I guess a lot has changed since then.

      1. Not only were they cliches but old cliches. He basically lifted it from the 50’s monster movie THEM! The little girl mentally scarred survivor, the hunt in the nest with machine guns and flame throwers. It also made worse that Cameron quantified the motivation for the aliens by making them ant-like, which kills the mystery of the creature by giving it an earth-like analogue making them less alien.

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